Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Old Ebbitt Grill: Washington, D.C.

You can almost hear the stomping of boots and the whinny of a horse or two when you step through the bronze and glass doors of Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, D.C.   It was originally established as a boarding house in 1856, but quickly became a tavern when no boarders could be established.

The bright Beaux Art facade you experience at the entryway belies the cool, dark interior more often associated with a Victorian saloon.  When you step through the doors of Old Ebbit Grill, you leave today behind and step into the past, when men still wore boots and hats every day and women wore long skirts and corsets.  You comprehend immediately that the mahogany and velvet booths weren't made in this century, and though the bar itself is less than 30 years old, the marble, brass and beveled glass came from the orginal bar and is clearly designed to evoke another time.   You can easily imagine the discussions and heated political arguments that have taken place in these booths over the past 150 years. 

The Old Ebitt Grill has been a D.C. staple since the middle of the 19th century.  It's location has changed several times, but it moved to its current home on 15th street in 1983.  It's previous location had been allowed to fall into decrepitude and the owners auctioned the entire property and interior off to the highest bidder.  This mounted walrus head survived the move, and came to the new location, along with multitudes of brass lighting fixtures, various booths, beer steins and other saloon necessities.  Legend says the walrus was bagged by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The current location is just yards away from some of the biggest attractions in Washington D.C. - the White House, the Treasury, the Capitol building, the Mall and the various Smithsonian museums.  Yet it feels worlds away from tourists and the overall insanity of D.C. and its traffic.  We sat at the bar and ordered cold drinks.  Gin and tonics were refreshing! The walk from the Mall was in full-sun, mid-June and though the Grill was comfortable, our internal body temperatures couldn't recover from the heat without a little help from our bartender.  We ordered another round.

Old Ebbitt Grill has always been popular with the power brokers of Washington.  Now it's equally popular with politicians, journalists, celebrities and theater-goers.  My group fell into none of those categories.  We were the underepresented tourists.

Though it was lunchtime, one of our group ordered this Grill Special - it's their version of Eggs Benedict: a Fried Oyster open-faced egg sandwich with a side of home fries.   She declared the oysters to be crispy on the outside, smooth and slightly chewy on the inside.  (The Grill is known throughout D.C. for it's amazing Oyster Bar, so it came as no surprise that these were tasty.  the bartender had recommended them with a knowing smile and a twinkle in his eye.  He knew we would not be disappointed.)  The oysters were lovingly ladled over the eggs and a fair amount of sauteed spinach, then drenched in Hollandaise Sauce. 

I ordered the more mundane steak salad.  One 6-oz medium rare sirloin served over a simple bed of lettuce, field greens, fresh, locally-grown tomatoes and pickled peppers.  Then the entire salad was tossed with a light balsamic vinaigrette.  Simple, yet simply delightful.   The steak was grilled to perfection, hot-pink on the inside and delightfully, lightly seasoned on the outside (and it's tough to ruin salad greens).  These were as fresh as any salad I've ever picked myself.

No wine today, just gin & tonics, a few beers, and food.  It was a good day.  Good solid, tavern food for a reasonable price in the heart of D.C.  Would recommend for business, power lunch, people-watching lunch or dinner.

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